Catch a Wave

By Kim Lowman

Wellness Program Manager

One of my favorite things to do when I visit the west coast is to get up early and watch the surfers off Manhattan Beach Pier. It’s been the same group, more or less, for the past few years and it’s been fascinating to watch their techniques and strategies. Two years ago, in June, I watched a young newbie surfer girl learning the ropes. She would see a potential wave, then paddle after it frantically, with arms and legs flailing and then jump up just a little too late to catch the wave. She took many a header into the Pacific. Over and over she tried. Meanwhile, an older surfer dude sat calmly watching many potential waves go by as he bobbed, patiently waiting for the right wave at the right time. When he saw it, he gracefully paddled to it, nimbly got to his feet and then rode that wave to the edge of the beach like a magic carpet. There were about 6 surfers out that morning and I must admit, I cannot remember what the other 4 were doing because I was focused only on the newbie and the experienced lifer.

There’s a metaphor here and it’s timely. Some of us are facing the change and challenges of this pandemic like the newbie surfer girl. Trying to catch every wave, using up all our energy and possibly exhausting ourselves in the process. Others are calm and patient and waiting to see what the next wave will be, knowing it will take us where we want to go. I think I am riding somewhere down the middle. Off the radar, not flailing and not infinitely patient… just riding the waves as they come, hoping I’m making the right choices. If not, I’ll get up on my metaphorical surfboard and try again.

I saw that same girl again in December of that year and I recognized her odd flailing paddle style immediately. I felt like I had run into an old friend even though she had no idea of my existence. She had greatly improved her timing and her balance. She was not chasing every wave. I saw her again in March 2019, and I chuckled to see she still had that flailing paddle style, like a child first learning to swim. However, she was catching the waves and riding them in gracefully. Her technique still seemed odd, but she was successful in her goal which was simply to catch a wave. She had been learning from her fellow surfers. You see, they are not competitive with each other at all. They support one another, and they let each other ride their wave of choice and style, without judgement.

I task myself with that goal as we surf through the waves of the current times. My technique is not as important as my ability to ride through the challenges and obstacles. I challenge myself to be gentler to those who have a different technique or strategy because I know we have the same common goal. I look for the wise older surfer that may have ridden similar waves before and I observe to learn how to be patient and how to choose carefully. And I don’t take surfing advice from non-surfers!

I was hoping to get out to the west coast this June before the pandemic hit. I was looking forward to seeing my “old surfer friends” but alas this is not possible. In fact, the beaches were closed until just recently. I asked my brother and my son if the surfers were still out with the beaches being closed, and the answer was yes. Where there are waves, there will be surfers. Different techniques, different strategies, but always in a supportive group and with the same common goal—ride the waves successfully.

“Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world” – Beach Boys